production assistants 

   1.     For a moment during the mid-aughts, more than five years but probably less than eight, gay porn became saturated with videos of depressed Russian twinks. These videos were formally perfect. Ambivalent boys tugged lazily at each other’s dicks. They fucked in baren, Soviet-style rooms, gazing listlessly towards some alluring point just off-camera. Elsewhere, they laid on small bath towels, stretched between muddy reeds along a non-descript river (the Oka? Or maybe the Volga? Are those too large for the setting I’m trying to conjure?). Like clockwork, one boy would flip over onto all fours, pouting while his bored counterpart mounted him and took a few non-committal pumps. Sometimes the bottom would wince. The boys occasionally made eye-contact, erupting into muffled laughter. These brief falters hardly came off as signs of a hidden intimacy. Rather, their closeness to one another broke the fourth-wall, two lads knowingly mocking the director drooling off-camera, performing his embarrassment for him (Or were they mocking me for watching, nubby pre-pubescent fingers jamming at the plastic straps of my new Volcom belt? Could they hurt me like that?). Like a good pop song, these videos displayed an algorithmic mastery of the basics of desire, cutting straight to what the audience truly wanted. Like a good pop song, these videos were also prone to a particularly lazy sort of criticism, one which bemoaned the death of human spirit, the ascendance of lifeless repetition.
    My first sexual explorations came through these videos. I would pour over them at night on my parents’ desktop. I was living in an American suburb, halfway around the world, projecting some type of vague narrative about coercion onto these boys. Outside, America was reeling under the Return of History, a reignition of red scare rhetoric spurred on by economic collapse and liberalism’s waning promise to deliver a better future. Our moment of universal connection had passed. Chechnya, we were reminded, was building death camps for gay men. Thousands of American teens experienced their first rushes of sexual desire through these videos. Blanketed by the comfort of suburban nothingness, we gained confidence through our distance from an apparently alienated other. [off-stage, the director chimes in, “you forgot to include that Mark Fisher quote about suburbs being totally bizarre!” Someone towards the back of the crowd, moaning: “God, don’t you people read *anyone* else?”]

2.     [A stagehand appears, hurriedly dragging two wicker chairs and a small, off-white café table towards center-stage. In his rush to get out of the way, the stagehand clips the leg of one of the chairs, cocking it so that it faces the crowd directly, creating the conditions for an uncomfortably confessional type of address. Towards the back of the crowd, a teen dressed in a studded-leather jacket screams, diverting the audience’s attention. When the audience’s gaze returns to the stage, the chairs are miraculously occupied, one by an editor of a well-known art magazine, the other by a slim Balearic DJ. It doesn’t matter who is sitting in which chair. A large canvas descends behind them, with the following words painted on it in red: “Is Grindr Destroying Gay Culture? A Round Table Conversation.”
    The editor absentmindedly smacks the back of a pen against the café table, over and over. He chastises Grindr for producing a toxic culture of selective sorting, trotting out the slogan “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” as damning evidence. CCTV footage of a man robbing a 7/11 is projected across the painted banner. The DJ contemplates which came first: eggplants being seen as eggplant emojis, or eggplant emojis being seen as dicks.
    The editor stands up and faces the banner, thrusting a hip towards the audience. A string of colored bandanas spills out of his back pocket like a children’s magic trick. Queer coding, he declares, has disappeared with the privatization of gay sex space; an unbroken tradition stretching back to the Greeks, shattered in the blink of an eye. A noisy crowd parades onto the stage, dressed like 18th century aristocrats who took a wrong turn on their way to storm the Bastille. Behind them stands a young cobbler’s apprentice, also dressed in period-piece clothing. He is facing the corner of the stage, peeing. The most respected women of the aristocracy blush, exclaiming, “something must be done about that stench!” A large, hollow cement tube with a narrow doorway is lowered over the peeing apprentice. Samuel Delany appears from behind the banner and enters the tube. The DJ registers none of this. The aristocrats seem pleased, although it is unclear why.
    The editor’s final remark: “Alienation is an ironic side effect of a platform that promises the most immediate and raw form of human connection.” The DJ hisses in disgust.]

3.     It is a mistake to assume that digital communication simply replaces, and thus degrades, language.

4.     Behind each cheap meme, or each unhinged DM, is a person who believes, with a burning passion, that such a thing should exist in the world.

5.     Positioning something as alienated, or alienating, is a rhetorical tool for defining one’s own sense of self.

6.     Shifts in homosexuality’s self-perception index larger shifts in the terrain of class conflict.

7.     I considered returning to the theater perspective one more time to end this piece, but decided against it. The idea felt bloated.

8.     I’ll do it.

9.   [The curtain drops, signaling that the show is over. After a few seconds of loose applause, the audience files out onto the street. Each attendant waits patiently for their personal cab to arrive, which will comfortably shuttle them back to their individual corner of history. Each one of them believes that their corner is the luckiest of them all, outside of the clamor of the rest of the world, something like history, yet slightly different, composed of only the good parts, like Keanu Reeves or bahn mi, incredible things to have accidentally come about through a string of horrible events. The director calls a cab of his own. He wonders, stupidly, whether anyone caught his nod toward Brecht’s theory of defamiliarization. A second, larger curtain drops, signaling that the show is over].

Ryan Mangione is a Los Angeles based writer and musician. His work has been published by, or is forthcoming with, Des Pair Books, The Quarterless Review, and November Magazine.
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